Retired Navy Officer Charged With Lying to Get $330,000

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A retired Navy commander who was awarded the Purple Heart for his actions after the 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon has been charged with lying about his injuries to collect more than $330,000 from a victims' fund.

Charles E. Coughlin, 49, of Severna Park pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges of mail fraud, theft of public money and filing fraudulent claims in connection with a scheme that helped him pay off auto loans and buy a $1 million house, prosecutors said.

A grand jury indicted Coughlin and his wife, Sabrina, 46, on Friday. Sabrina Coughlin pleaded not guilty to mail fraud at the federal courthouse in Washington.

Both were released on personal recognizance after a brief appearance before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Alan Kay. They declined to comment afterward.

The criminal charges come weeks after the federal government filed a civil suit to recover the money.

The government has taken custody of two of Coughlin's vehicles, and federal attorneys in the civil proceedings want the court's permission to seize them permanently, along with the house.

Charles Coughlin's attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, said his client was looking "forward to a fair trial before a jury."

Coughlin had said he was badly injured when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 184 people.

He was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries and a Meritorious Service Medal for his conduct that day.

He told a magazine writer that he started to flee after the attack but ran back inside the Pentagon to help extinguish flames and escort co-workers to safety.

The government is challenging the account of injuries he submitted to the Justice Department's Victim Compensation Fund, which was established to pay those who lost relatives or were injured in the attacks.

The indictment alleges that Coughlin and his wife sought to "enrich themselves by making repeated false claims."

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